Fraud charges rock Bloorview School

[attach]3508[/attach]It’s business as usual at the Bloorview School Authority for now, but the special needs school is still getting over the shock of learning that four of its former employees, including a previous school director, have been charged with defrauding the Bayview-area school of $700,000.

“I was appalled by the whole situation and still am,” said current director Saryl Jacobson. “It’s not a great story for Bloorview School Authority.”

In January, Toronto police announced they had charged the school’s former director Linda LaRocque, 63, with laundering the proceeds of crime and charged the school’s former business manager, Paula Gerolimon, 49, with laundering proceeds of crime and falsifying books or documents. The two, along with a pair of other former employees and one non-employee were also charged with fraud over $5,000.

Jacobson said the school launched an internal investigation of its finances shortly after she took over in September 2007. That led to a third-party forensic investigation that implicated LaRocque and other staff members. It was back in December 2008 when the school turned over its findings to Toronto Police, who conducted their own investigation based on the evidence. In late January, police announced they had charged and arrested five people involved.

Because of employment laws, Jacobson couldn’t say when the accused employees had left the school. However, she said she learned about their alleged involvement in the fraud during the school’s internal investigation three years ago.

Though no one has yet been convicted, the news has shocked the small school community.

“It’s very new and there’s a sense of rawness,” Jacobson said.

“Teachers and the staff who would have worked with and known these people were also upset by it and outraged that anything like this could have possibly happened.”

Nonetheless, she said the current staff remain committed to the organization’s mission of helping children with special needs.

“None of those (accused) people are here now and most people don’t know who they are,” Jacobson said. “The school’s always had a great reputation and we don’t want this to affect that.

“It’s a place that has a big heart.”

Jacobson said she didn’t know how the missing funds might have affected school operations, as the money went missing before she took over at Bloorview.

However, she said the school took measures to strengthen its financial controls following the internal investigation several years ago.

The Bloorview School Authority is situated on the same site as the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, but is a separate corporate and legal entity.

It serves children with special learning and rehabilitative needs and is completely funded by the Ministry of Education.

The accused were set to appear in a Toronto courtroom February 15.